Peak(s):  Handies Peak  -  14,048 feet
Date Posted:  06/28/2020
Date Climbed:   06/26/2020
Author:  timcarroll920
 Enjoyable Day on Handies  

My 13th 14er turned out to be anything but unlucky! Handies Peak via the Southwest Slopes route was quite simply the most enjoyable climb I have ever done. There is no such thing as an “easy” 14er, but Handies is a hike that people of all abilities have a shot at. There were people of all ages on the mountain from kids to old guys (like me!). Not all made the top but many did.

Drove up to Durango from the Dallas area on Thursday night and headed to the American Basin trailhead around 4:00 am Friday. This was by far the scariest part of the day. Past Silverton, the road is very rough with steep drop-offs. The last few miles, in particular, I wasn’t sure my Subaru Outback could make it. Slowly we inched along until, alas, we made it to the creek right before the trailhead. The 62 mile trip took almost 3 hours! Made the mistake of following the truck in front of me and parking right across the creek instead of at the actual trailhead. This added a couple miles to the hike but no biggie.

Just past the creek - keep driving to get to the trailhead (unless you want to hike 2 extra miles!)

The trail is in excellent condition and there were tons of people out on this beautiful day. Right from the start there are stunning views in all directions that just keep getting better as you move up. Not sure if they last all summer, but there are at least 10 waterfalls visible throughout the hike. There are also beautiful wildflowers all over the mountain.

Beginning of the trail - nice and mellow

The trail very easy to follow except for the section right below the lake that is partially covered in snow. The cairns let you know you are on the right track. The first part of the climb was pretty mellow with very smooth and easily recognizable trail. Crossing the creek was not a problem at all. Soon after, there are a number of small snow fields to cross. I didn’t have any trouble crossing with hiking boots and poles. The snow was hard and a little slippery in the morning. By the time I came back down it was soft and melted but still traversable.

Beautiful waterfall! Crossing the creek was no problem.
Two of the snow fields to cross - keep your eye on the trail and the cairns to stay on track.

The toughest part of the climb was after the lower section and before the lake. It seemed to be the steepest and rockiest but nowhere near as difficult as other 14ers I’ve been on. Once I was above the lake, the switchbacks were pleasant as the trail gradually lead to the Summit. Be sure to take in the views periodically! Each stage of this hike reveals more and more beauty in all directions.

Looking back down the trail from the grassy section above the lake - the section down below is the toughest.

I spent more time on the Summit than I ever have. It was a beautiful sunny day and there were lots of nice people to talk to and a cute dog named Gizmo. I just wanted to soak in the spectacular sights all around. This was my first time climbing in the San Juans and it is a whole different world than the Front Range, Mosquito or Sawatch. The mountains are so much more jagged and dramatic. I usually climb in September, so it was stunning to see so much snow on all the peaks.

On the Summit!
Spectacular views in all directions

Many trip reports on seem very focused on time. I get that sometimes you have to beat bad weather coming in. And in the past, I’ve been in a hurry to get down because I was ready to kick up my feet and have a beer. But this time, I made a conscious effort to go slow on the descent, taking more of a stroll than a hike. This was a game changer. I stopped at least every 10 minutes to look around – across the mountains, at the wildflowers, staring down a marmot or two. I chatted with a very nice group of people from Lake City who had a cute Yellow Lab named Annie. I stopped for a long time and just listened to a waterfall. I had nowhere to go and no place else I’d rather be. It was magical! As Ferris Bueller said “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it!”

Annie making it look easy!

I did lose the trail briefly after crossing the last snow field. It took about five minutes of traversing before I spotted the path ahead and it was very easy to get back on course.

After getting back to the car and changing clothes, I headed out toward Lake City. While there are a few rough spots on this road too, but it is WAYYYY more tame than the route from Silverton. Overall, it was the most enjoyable day I’ve ever had on a 14er! I hope this report helps you to Reach Your Peak!!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions

Beautiful Mountain
06/28/2020 11:51
Very nice trip report.

I did Handies from Grizzly Gulch the day before you were up there.

Different route, but same mountain and much the same thoughts. Handies is now one of my favorite hikes.


06/28/2020 12:16
I enjoyed it so much I might try it again sometime from Grizzly Gulch.


It is a beautiful place.
06/28/2020 12:39
If you do do it again, I would recommend going up Grizzly Gulch and going down the route you took up. You can then hike down the road to your vehicle and likely as not, people will offer you a lift if it suits you. Also a little later in the year - maybe mid-July - and the wildflowers in American Basin are to die for.

And - as the saying goes, you are only as old as you feel so keep climbing those mountains!. I find the mountains keep me young (plus I don't look in the mirror much ).

Keep on keeping on!


Great idea!
06/28/2020 21:47
I never thought about that but it sounds like fun! Agree that mountains keep us young. Iâll keep climbing until I canât. 👍🏼

Nice report
06/30/2020 00:19
Thanks for the wonderful pictures. I'm heading there soon.

Beautiful day!!
06/30/2020 09:14
Great report and beautiful photos! We're hiking Handies beginning of August from Lake City. Prefer to hike from the Basin and not to drive on the shelf road on County Rd 30 to Grizzly Gulch.How long did the drive back to Lake City take you? I believe it may be longer than from Grizzly Gulch??


Driving Estimates
06/30/2020 12:14
Thanks, michl06! I didn't note exact drive times on the way out. It took about 15 minutes to get from American Basin to Grizzly Gulch. From there to Lake city was about 40 more minutes. I don't know any other way to get to either trailhead without taking CR30. The road between Lake City and the trailheads is much easier than the one from Silverton - though for a non-Coloradan like me, both were white knucklers! I would not even attempt this without high clearance 4 wheel drive. I saw a bunch of OHVs cruising around and they seemed to handle the terrain quite easily.

Have fun out there!

06/30/2020 13:59
LOL!! It's not fun being afraid of heights here in CO... Thanks for the info!
Hope you get more great hikes in this summer!!

Excellent report
07/03/2020 22:27
Thanks for the report and the pictures. I am heading to Handies next week for number 37.

At the rate I'm going i think I'm a sure bet for getting the SKT (slowest known time) for being a 14er finisher.

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